Foreign Minister Warns of ‘Greater Risk’ of Conflict in the Indo-Pacific

Foreign Minister Warns of ‘Greater Risk’ of Conflict in the Indo-Pacific
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong looks on during a joint press conference in Makati, Philippines on May 18, 2023. (Lisa Marie David - Pool/Getty Images)
Nick Spencer
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Penny Wong has flagged a greater risk of conflict in the Indo-Pacific, calling on nations to ramp up diplomatic efforts in the face of rising tensions. 
“I think we are probably at a greater risk now of conflict than we have been for many years. We have said these are the riskiest strategic circumstances the world has seen for many years and that means that we all have to elevate our efforts to ensure that competition is managed,” Senator Wong told reporters outside the United Nations headquarters on Sept. 20.
Senator Wong also highlighted Australia’s crucial role in being part of a geostrategic coalition of middle powers that can cumulatively enforce global political civility. 
“The nations of the world who are not superpowers need to collectively continue to advocate, encourage, urge, perhaps put some collective pressure on great powers to act responsibly and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” she said.
“Australia has a view about the rule of law and we will always express that view.”
Senator Wong’s comments come after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) expanded its ban on the use of Apple products within state-run bureaucracies and companies.
The move saw Apple lose over 3 percent, or $312 billion, of its market capitalisation in just two days, sending its stock (AAPL) to a one-month low.
The policy was part of Beijing’s attempt to reduce China’s reliance on foreign technology.
More recently, it achieved success in manufacturing its own semiconductors—crucial for smartphones—that it has traditionally imported from the United States.
“China is figuring out the ways to limit the impact of sanctions, and this will necessitate tactical changes in U.S. export controls and other restrictions to achieve the same strategic goal,” said U.S.-based international relations analyst Matthew Bey.

Debate Over Beijing’s Intentions

Rising tensions between the two countries have spurred debate among smaller nations, like Australia, over how to position itself. 
Those who believe a tougher stance towards the CCP is unnecessary say continuing interdependence with China is important due to ongoing economic ties. 
“China is a lonely state. They would fall over themselves to have a proper relationship with us. We supply their iron ore which keeps their industrial base going and there’s nowhere else but us to get it,” said former Prime Minister Paul Keating in an interview at the National Press Club. 
However, Mr. Keating also questioned the veracity of claims that the Uyghur minority was suffering persecution. 
“I’m not to defend China about the Uyghurs but there’s disputes about what the nature of the Chinese affront to the Uyghurs are,“ he said. ”What if the Chinese said, ‘Look, what about deaths in custody of Aboriginal people in your present system?’ Wouldn’t that be a valid point for them?" 
Meanwhile, Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson is more sceptical of ties with Beijing. 
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. The Chinese Communist Party has not just shown us once who they are, they’ve shown us who they are in Tibet, they’ve shown us who they are in Xinjiang, they’ve shown us who they are in Hong Kong, they’re showing us again who they are in Taiwan,” Senator Paterson told ABC’s Q&A this time last year. 
“As a country, we need to be doing everything we can to contribute to our allies’ collective efforts to discourage a unilateral and forceful change to the status quo.”